In the old days, seeing a sales team work was like watching sharks smell blood in the water and furiously bite everything around them. Darwinian sales managers throw chum in the water in the way of contests, spiffs, shouting matches, and "top dog" awards. For companies that have short-term goals, huge prospect lists, and turn-and-burn attitudes, the feeding frenzy can work.
But for companies with longer sales cycles, more complex and expensive products, and more of the total deal value captured in post-sale annuity-type revenue streams, sales teams should be collaborative.
Collaboration is simply more effective. No one salesperson can marshal the information, contacts, and insights that a coordinated team can. And you don't really need your salespeople working against each other by jumping territories or stealing leads. One of the most effective ways to disrupt a set of existing industry players is to sell to your audience differently.
Here are five ways to make your sales team more collaborative:
1. Don't split commissions
The first move many managers make towards encouraging collaboration is to divide commissions among the salespeople who worked on the deal. In practice, though, splitting commissions always ends up in a vicious circle of compensation gamesmanship. Without fail, you'll wind up in discussions about who contributed more to a closed deal and who should therefore take more of the commission home.
In a recent conversation I had with Dan Pink, bestselling author of Drive, he aptly said: "No matter what compensation scheme management devised, the sales folks figured out a way to game it. (That's not a criticism. I'd respond the same way.) That led management to ratchet up the compensation scheme's complexity –- which, in turn, led sales people to ratchet up the ingenuity of their response. On and on it went."
Instead, it's much more effective to encourage a team culture of collaboration with manager praise, kudos from the "team captain," and unexpected spot bonuses.
2. Share information
No one knows as much about your company, competition, and prospects than everyone put together. The more information is communicated among a sales team, the more you can help each other. Discuss deals everyone is working on as a group. Talk about losses openly and without blame. Solicit your alpha salesperson to help a junior member with a deal. Ask everyone on the team to weigh in on a particularly tough prospect. You'll be amazed when you find that the quietest person has a cousin in the purchasing department of the company you're struggling to break into.
3. Invest in your sales team
The vast majority of sales technology spending goes to systems for oversight and reporting, rather than to empowering collaboration and sales success. Investing in tools, services, and training that help your team do well--individually and as a group--demonstrates your commitment to employee success, and will sell more products.
4. Hire collaborators, fire selfish sellers
This is obvious, but must not be overlooked. When you interview, pay attention to the people who say, "We achieved," instead of, "I beat my quota." Hire the applicants who talk more about their previous company's growth than their one big deal.
After a team meeting or before an offsite, think over each member of your team and ask yourself, "Who would leave the rest of us stranded? When something goes wrong, who shares least?" If you want to send a message of collaboration to the rest of the team, let that person go.
5. Create external enemies
So many sales teams are built on "friendly competition" between members. Get rid of your top-seller award, and instead encourage collaboration by setting up an outside goal that the team can reach together. The best sports teams in the world pay more to their stars, but their attitudes always emphasize team achievements. Your star shouldn't be proud of her MVP award if your team didn't win the championship.